The World Champs Series So Far...
With the Dextro Energy Triathlon – ITU World Championship Series Grand Final in sight, it’s time to reflect on the exciting action of the previous seven legs and look forward to what we can expect as the world’s best triathletes go head to head for the coveted prize on Australia’s Gold Coast.
Tongyeong in South Korea got the action underway at the start of May and the new series format showed immediate success with an epic sprint finish in the men’s race between Bevan Docherty from New Zealand and Australia’s Brad Kahlefeldt. The pair were separated by one thousandth of a second as the photo finish camera was given its first use of the year. Dmitry Polyansky deservedly finished in third, the Russian utilising a breakaway on the bike with Alexander Brukhankov to his advantage.
Olympic champion Emma Snowsill was in impressive form in the women’s race despite recovering from a broken rib obtained whilst surfing. The Aussie rarely looked troubled as she managed to hold off compatriot Emma Moffatt, the Olympic bronze medallist, with Japan’s Juri Ide a stunning third place at the series opener; a relatively new name for the 2009 season with plenty of potential for the future.
As the series moved from Asia to Europe triathlon fans caught their first glimpse of a new phenomenon; the form of 21 year old Alistair Brownlee. As a relative outsider the Brit put together a textbook race, joining the front swim pack before breaking away with the leaders on the bike. But it was the run where the youngster destroyed the opposition, showing a clean pair of heels to home favourite Javier Gomez and the experienced Australian, Courtney Atkinson. Gomez, recovering from an injury sustained at the 2008 Olympic Games couldn’t hold off the sprint of Atkinson who went on to take second.
The women’s race was a much closer affair with the photo finish camera being brought out again as five women came into the home straight together. A last ditch effort granted New Zealand’s Andrea Hewitt the win with Sweden’s Lisa Norden in second, just ahead of Jessica Harrison from France. Sarah Haskins from the USA and Germany’s Christiane Pilz were the ones just to miss out on a podium finish.
Just when it was thought that Snowsill would be unbeatable in 2009, Moffatt turned the tables in Washington DC as the Dextro Energy Triathlon – ITU World Championship Series graced the streets of the iconic US capital. Snowsill couldn’t match the electric pace as the second Emma of Triathlon Australia’s women’s line up stormed away to win her first world championship race. Snowsill just held on to second, breaking away from reigning under 23 world champion, Daniela Ryf from Switzerland. Following the race Snowsill was diagnosed with a hip injury and would go on to miss the rest of the series before Gold Coast.
There was no surprise in the men’s race as the irrepressible Brownlee surged away to his second win of the series in similar fashion to his Madrid victory, out running Gomez and Maik Petzold from Germany. A lead pack of five, including American duo of Hunter Kemper and Andy Potts, held off the charging Olympic champion Jan Frodeno who clocked the fastest run split. If some of the global triathlon press thought Brownlee’s win in Madrid was a one off, the doubters were answered with another resounding display.
As the summer got into full swing the tour moved back to Europe for a hat trick of extraordinary events. The alpine ski resort of Kitzbühel in Austria was up first, offering athletes a break from the city skylines as the peaceful mountainous surroundings offered a new dimension and atmosphere.
The men’s race saw the first and only false start of the year and the athletes were pulled back for a second attempt which was thankfully successful. Once underway the pack came together on the bike, although the wet conditions claimed a number of crash victims including the Kiwis, Kris Gemmell and Bevan Docherty, and Alexander Brukhankov from Russia. On to the run and Brownlee did what he does best, accelerating away from Gomez at the half way point to win his third successive race, leaving the defending world champion to settle for second. Laurent Vidal from France won the sprint for third, his first visit to the podium in 2009.
The women had their first taste of things to come as America’s Hayley Peirsol made her Dextro Energy Triathlon – ITU World Championship Series debut, the former swimming world championship medallist destroying the opening leg as she put a minute into the opposition. She was caught by the others on the bike as Swiss powerhouse Nicola Spirig pulled the packs together. As expected Moffatt set the pace on the run, but struggled to shake Spirig and defending world champion Helen Jenkins from Great Britain. Eventually the Aussie broke away and took her second win of the series as Spirig held on for second and Andrea Hewitt ran through for the bronze.
Hamburg, the venue for the 2007 world championships, welcomed the triathletes with the usual vigour and passionate crowds as the home support hoped for a bit of magic from Olympic champion Frodeno; however it wasn’t to be Germany’s day.
Daniel Unger was the first victim, the 2007 world champion puncturing early on the bike, writing off his chances. Despite Frodeno and Petzold coming off the bike with the leaders they were helpless to prevent Jarrod Shoemaker from taking his first major win since being crowned as under 23 world champion in 2005. The American distanced himself on the run, running flat out to keep ahead of the chasers. Brad Kahlefeldt finished in second, his third silver medal of the year, with Alexander Brukhankov from Russia closing quickly to take third. Steffen Justus was the top German in fourth with Frodeno down in tenth.
The women’s race saw another Moffatt win, although in different circumstances to her usual tactic of waiting for the run. Training partners, Lisa Norden and Daniela Ryf, took full advantage of their superior bike skills to form a breakaway at the head of the race in wet conditions, but they were joined by a determined Moffatt who closed them down to eliminate the danger. Once onto the run there was no stopping the Aussie as she cruised to win number three with Norden in second and Ryf third, the trio comfortably ahead of Lauren Groves, the fastest of the chase pack’s runners.
With last year’s Beijing Olympic Games still fresh in the memory the athletes had an opportunity to race at the venue for the 2012 Olympics as the sixth leg turned to London and Hyde Park. With the pressure on Brownlee to deliver win number four he looked to be cracking on the cycle as his breakaway pack were caught by the illustrious chasers; however a set of remarkable circumstances eliminated many of his main competition. Gomez went down in a crash, Shoemaker was having a bad day at the office and called it a day and Brad Kahlefeldt was involved in an accident in second transition and cut his foot open. Despite getting tripped by a fallen Laurent Vidal in transition the Brit hit the front on the run and didn’t look back, clean sweeping his way to a fourth win. Steffen Justus was an impressive second, building on his Hamburg result, with Kris Gemmell making a welcome return to the podium in third.
The Spirig train was back in force in the women’s race as the Swiss star rode through the packs following an average swim to put herself up with the leaders as Moffatt sat out with injury. The big names jostled for position on the run and with just one lap remaining they were down to five. Debbie Tanner from New Zealand was the first crack, followed by Liz May from Luxembourg. In the home straight Spirig had the legs to hold off Norden, the Swede collecting her third silver medal of the series, with Helen Jenkins delighting home crowds with third.
Just one week later the athletes faced jetlag and a change in atmospheric conditions as they made their way to Yokohama, Japan, for the penultimate round of the Dextro Energy Triathlon – ITU World Championship Series.
Lisa Norden, still in search of her first win, wasn’t taking any chances in being denied the top step of the podium and whittled her opposition down with some well timed attacks as the heat and humidity rose throughout the women’s race. With 800m to go on the run she launched her final surge to the finish line to drop Andrea Hewitt and Juri Ide as she added one gold medal to her three silvers, putting real pressure on Moffatt heading towards the Grand Final. Hewitt’s silver ensured she stayed in close proximity to the top of the rankings in third whilst Ide’s second bronze medal of the series moved her into the top ten.
The men’s race was an exciting affair as Courtney Atkinson looked to go solo on the bike, before being caught by the German pairing of Frodeno and Petzold. The trio worked hard to put distance into the chasing pack and entered second transition with a forty second advantage over the battle scarred Gomez, still recovering from his crash in London. The Spaniard quickly ran through Petzold and Atkinson as he pulled Kris Gemmell with him, but the Olympic champion stayed strong and held on to win his first major race outside of the Olympic Games. With the final podium places up for grabs the Kiwi kicked for home, denying Gomez the silver as Gemmell won his second medal in as many weeks.
So as we head towards the Dextro Energy Triathlon – ITU World Championship Grand Final all eyes in the men’s competition are firmly focussed on Alistair Brownlee, the 21 year old sensation from Great Britain who stormed to four victories in Madrid, Washington DC, Kitzbühel and London.
However the title is far from sewn up and with a further twelve men all in a shot of being crowned as 2009 world champion Brownlee will face an uphill struggle in Australia if the would-be prince is to fend off the challengers to the triathlon throne.
Brownlee’s closest challenger is defending champion and the only man to beat the Brit in 2009, Javier Gomez from Spain, who got one over the youngster at the European championships. Having racked up some impressive performances, including bronze in Madrid when just coming back from injury, the Beijing Olympic Game fourth place finisher will be hungry to put another world title on his résumé to go with his European crown.
With just 351 points separating the top two, the would be medallists face further threats from behind with Kris Gemmell from New Zealand coming into a good run of form including bronze in London and silver in Yokohama. Germany’s Maik Petzold and Steffen Justus are also in the running with Frenchman Laurent Vidal. Hamburg winner Jarrod Shoemaker still has a shot at the title along with Commonwealth champion Brad Kahlefeldt from Australia and Olympic champion Jan Frodeno from Germany. The experienced pairing of Aussie Courtney Atkinson and Kiwi Bevan Docherty could yet cause an upset and the Russian powerhouses, Dmitry Polyansky and Alexander Brukhankov may still have a part to play as the drama unfolds.
On the women’s side attention turns to home favourite and Olympic Games bronze medallist Emma Moffatt. Following a stunning season which started with a second place finish in Tongyeong behind Olympic champion Emma Snowsill and featured three world championship series victories in Washington, Kitzbühel and Hamburg, the Aussie may yet still find herself in trouble on Gold Coast.
With Sweden’s Lisa Norden posting a remarkably consistent run of results, which included three silver medals in Madrid, Hamburg and London and a historic win at the final race in Yokohama, she lies just 120 points behind the Aussie.
There are a further five athletes who are still in with a fighting chance to win the series. Andrea Hewitt, the Madrid winner, sits in third with Daniela Ryf from Switzerland fourth, Sarah Haskins from the USA in fifth. Reigning world champion, Great Britain’s Helen Jenkins sits in sixth and Juri Ide from Japan is seventh.
However questions are being raised over Moffatt’s fitness as reports from Australia indicate that the series leader has been suffering with plantar fasciitis, a foot and heel injury, which will have reduced her training and could still hold her back in the biggest race of the year. It’s certainly all to play for in both the men’s and women’s competitions!
Also to be kept in mind are those athletes who have the pedigree to win the Grand Final but cannot feature on the Dextro Energy Triathlon – ITU World Championship Series rankings as they have not completed enough events. Beijing silver medallist Vanessa Fernandes can never be written off despite having suffered a miserable year of injuries and problems. On the men’s side Simon Whitfield from Canada is one to watch out for, the double Olympic medallist knows how to deliver on the big occasion and will be looking to cause an upset.
With the elite men racing on Saturday 12th September and the women on Sunday 13th September, be sure to tune in to the free live broadcast from the Gold Coast by signing for the ITU’s television website, www.triathlon.org/tv